Workspace and Environment: Accelra

Background
I grew up in a village just outside Cambridge, England. After A-levels, I worked doing electronic technician work for a local firm. Outside of work, I spent most of my time at home making music & playing computer games. I work for the wonderful Version Industries (65dos & Big Black Delta fans will surely know of us) here in London as well, so I can’t see a need to move right now.

My first foray into music making was probably when I was 12. I gravitated towards people who looked and dressed like me (as you do at that age), hoping people shared the same taste in music. This being the early ‘90s in England, you either liked pop, indie, rave or grunge. Within the first week at school I clicked with a guy called Martin due to our mutual love of Pearl Jam, Alice in Chains & Soundgarden. At this time I couldn’t really play any instruments that well but Martin could play the guitar to a reasonable standard. Instead of following in the footsteps of our musical heroes, we took to forming a experimental-noise (read: shit) duo heavily influenced by our favorite band, Mr. Bungle. I took up vocal / FX duties whilst Martin basically played thrash guitar / white noise. We used to get together at weekends at his Mum’s house, get drunk and record an album of mad shit into a C90 tape recorder. I would then spend the next week at school designing stupid album covers before we recorded again the following weekend.

Music making got a bit more serious when I was 16/17 and started getting into u-Ziq, Squarepusher & Aphex, thanks to my friends Mike & Jos. I quickly got into programming on trackers (ModPlug being my favorite to this day) & and an outboard step-sequencer (Yamaha RM1x) to start making glitchy beats and weird FX stuff. I bought a couple of cheap Behringer rack FX units and a cheap mic and started making weird, experimental noise with Jos under the name, The Project Mindrape. It was when we were mixing down an album of this stuff in the cold, damp barn at Mike’s house, that I played Mike & Jos what would become the first tracks I made under the name, Accelra. They suggested I should probably put it under a new name, as this music was decidedly more melodic and tuneful than my previous stuff. Since then I’ve learnt how to play the piano and to a lesser degree, the guitar. These now form the building blocks within my music as interfacing starting points to the sounds I make.

When I started making music as Accelra, I used to just make music for the sake of it. Compartmentalizing tracks into albums with no planned release in mind, then just moving onto the next batch. I would then design artwork and give CDs out to my friends. This slowed a bit when I moved to London due to a lack of good space to make music within coupled with my increasing disposable income, that I ploughed into computer games (life’s great, wondrous, time sink of an activity). In more recent times I have been working on-and-off on about four albums worth of material at any one time. Most recently I have completed a remix for Big Black Delta. My friend & work colleague, Caspar pushed me to get stuff up online as I’ve been a bit secretive with my music for the past few years. I’ve now started releasing my earlier work on Bandcamp, which gives me time to focus on more recent projects.

Current Favorite Hardware
Squier Jagmaster guitar: Over the last six months I’ve strived to add new input methods to my music outside of my day-to-day keyboard interface. I felt the natural progression from my more recent music was to add a guitar-based input to my creative process. I didn’t have a huge amount of cash so I bought a secondhand Squier Jagmaster (with a Bowie-tastic, glam silver sparkle finish) and gutted the electrics and hardware so I could rebuilt it. My girlfriend’s brother, James, is a stunningly good guitarist (who also knows how to build and fix guitars) so between us we did it up. I’m a massive fan of the sound of the Fender Wide-range Humbucker so I got a custom one made and partnered that with a P90 in the bridge. Both these pickups react really well to layers of FX processing and can give me a wonderful clean sound.

Apple Magic Mouse: People may complain about the lack of a simple rechargeable battery solution but it makes navigating DAWs far easier. It must have sped up my workflow no end over the last year or so.

Current Favorite Software
In terms of DAW, I use Logic Pro these days as my main arrangement interface. Alongside that I use ModPlug tracker on the PC.

My Macbook Pro pretty much allows me to go silly with FX layering and process chains in Logic. I can essentially craft tonal palettes in terms of FX and then save that off as my own preset. That capability alone revolutionized my sequencing environment and Logic’s straightforward interface means it’s really easy to bring those processes into an existing track when you want to experiment.

ModPlug Tracker never gets old. It handles just about every tracker format and I still prefer the vertical timeline of trackers to that of modern DAW’s horizontal timelines. I can forgive the crude sample handling and VST support as it was born of a time when each new instrument channel meant lowering the sound quality of the whole mix. You had to be ruthless to get a good sound of it and I still think all my old tracker mixes sound like shit today. Luckily it doesn’t handle the lion’s share of duties these days but I’m loath to give it up entirely.

Plugin wise, I’m a massive fan of Apple’s reverb plugins. They work nicely out of the box and have low latency and CPU drain, which is all good in my world. I’m also a big lover of convolution reverbs (mainly as I can’t afford to utilize anything other than the space I’m in). I’m looking into getting IK’s AmpliTube or NI’s Guitar Rig at some point soon to muck around with some amp modeling.

Workspace and Environment
The space around me really does have a huge impact on my creativity. If I can’t control the space, I find it hard to concentrate when it comes to playing around with ideas. Because of this, when my girlfriend and I bought our first flat in London, I built a studio/workspace at the bottom of the garden. I have a background in electrical engineering & was always helping my Dad with home improvement projects, so me and my girlfriend’s brother, James, built the studio ourselves in about 3 months. After living in numerous Victorian terrace flats in London, it was nice to dictate the number of power points in the room by wiring it myself. Building the studio was a tough process but it’s really nice to be able to create music in a calm, sound-proofed environment.

It all started in my parent’s house when I was still living at home. Then I moved around a number of rented flats around in North London before building my studio space at the bottom of my garden. Initially I ran a crappy PC computer, dual CRT screen on a couple of desks in my bedroom but that has moved onto a control room style studio space with a Macbook Pro + PC laptop. If I move again, I’m planning on a larger space with a dedicated live room.

Ergonomics
An ergonomic chair is a must. I used to foolishly use one of those ergonomic chairs you kneel in but basically sat on it in such a way that I probably fucked my back up more than sitting in any regular chair would’ve done. I currently sit in a Herman Miller Embody chair in a very bright orange color. On a good day you can feel like Captain Kirk or Blofeld. On a bad day you’re just thankful that you’re not permanently damaging your back in a ‘stylish’ office chair that will turn you into a hunched Gollum within a year. I have a nice big white desk to work on that contains most of my stuff for music & work (again it could always be bigger!). Its set to my perfect working height so I’m not messing my shoulders up or giving myself early RSI. All boring stuff but it really helps when you are working / making music, not having to worry about the detrimental health affects of your workspace.

Ostensibly I would say that it’s more down to my mood than anything else when it comes to the style, quality and feelings found in any given piece of music I make. I am aware however, that the space around me heavily dictates my mood so I would say that although I don’t take direct narrative points from my surroundings, I’m probably subconsciously driven to sound ideas by proxy.

Ideal Location
As nice as my studio space is, it could always be bigger! I would like to say a countryside setting with nice views but the last time I was in space like that with a mind to write music (in this case the Big Black Delta remix), I ended up going to a local zoo instead. I did see some cool goats, so not a total loss. However, I do like seclusion if I’m honest. Most, if not all of the music I’ve made as Accelra has been made on my own, when no one else is around. As much as I like working in a vacuum, more recently I’ve been collaborating with some very talented friends of mine. Collaboration at the ideas level is a weird experience for me, as I am more used to a ‘show and tell’ method in terms of working on projects with others. I have some new joint projects on the go at the moment that are true 50/50 collaborative efforts and I’m finding it nice to get stuck into a new way of working alongside my normal processes.

Work Ethic
Sometimes I try to force ideas, which does throw up some good stuff occasionally. In more regular work I’m probably guilty of getting caught in stylistic moods that frame periods of tracks over a year. The positives of this is that I can have a lot of different and sometimes conflicting stuff to draw from when working out what to do with it. Bad points are that I’m a lot more ruthless when it comes to the care I have for the tracks themselves as more time passes. I’m doing my best to deal with this by simply releasing what I’ve sat on for the last three years rather just filing it away as stuff that just didn’t work out right or not having enough companion pieces to become something bigger.

Extra Curricular
Aside from my own projects I occasionally do original music, sound design & foley recording work for Version Industries on websites and other projects. High profile examples are the Beyond Apollo pre-production film website & the JLo Love & Glamour perfume experience website. In an ideal world, I would love to do music for computer games (especially RPGs) or film scoring.

- http://accelra.bandcamp.com/
- http://twitter.com/accelra
- http://www.versionindustries.com/

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